Volusia County council members have taken the first step toward what at least one of them hopes is giving the council power to monitor children’s books in the public library system and remove or restrict controversial titles from the shelves.
Council members voted Tuesday night to review the library’s book selection and review policies, opening a discussion during their next meeting to change any they find ineffective.
The push was made by Councilman Don Dempsey, an attorney who represents DeLand, Orange City, Lake Helen and some of DeBary. Dempsey said he wanted to keep so-called propaganda out of the hands of the county’s children, without defining what that meant.
“It’s pushing agendas to children,” Dempsey said, to the agreement of some other council members. “I think it’s prudent to at least have a forum to hear complaints from citizens.”
Dempsey specified under questioning that his moves would be limited to the children’s section only, saying adults were capable of deciding which books were appropriate to read.
The councilman’s push comes amid a wave of book bans in Florida’s public schools pushed by conservative advocacy groups and state Department of Education appointees in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and greater acceptance among younger generations of gay and transgender rights.
Time and time again, though, school board members have assured parents opposed to the bans that the controversial books would be available in public libraries for parents and children to check out.
Volusia is the first known Central Florida government to take even the smallest step toward checks on a public library.
However, should the county continue down that path, they could run into a legal fight. Courts have set a long precedent of forbidding governments from restricting or removing books from public libraries based on their political, moral or philosophical content under the First Amendment’s freedom of speech.
Earlier this year, a judge ordered a Texas county to restore books that had recently been removed from its public libraries, most of which featured transgender or racial issues and characters. In response, the county’s leaders voted to defund their libraries.
Some of Volusia County’s leaders cautioned that the county was nowhere near any book removals, and may never take that step.
“You are way ahead of what the Council took action on last night,” chairman Jeff Brower wrote in response to WFTV’s questions about constitutionality. “We have asked for the Director of Library Services to let the Council know what their policy is regarding the book selection and dispute process. No other action was taken. We want to know what the library’s policies are now.”
Brower’s statement echoed sentiments he expressed during the council’s discussion on Dempsey’s measure.
“We hopefully will get good news about how they’re managing the children’s book selections,” he said to his fellow council members.
Councilman-at-large Jake Johansson also distanced himself from Dempsey’s motion in an email Wednesday, explaining that his contribution to the discussion was a pitch to disband the county’s library committee and give council more control over the library system for efficiency.
“I do not believe committees are nimble and responsive enough to do good while working under the Florida Sunshine requirements,” Johansson wrote.
Dempsey did not answer questions emailed to him as of 7 p.m. Wednesday.
The discussion could be continued at the council’s mid-May meeting, but a date has not formally been announced.